Logbook Stories

from my "Standard Pilot Master Log"


Formation Flying: Hard But Fun

November 21, 1976

A local company owned three airplanes based at the FBO where I worked as a flight instructor/charter pilot. The airplanes were a Piper Navajo, a Piper Cherokee Six and a Maule (which particular model escapes me). The company's owner/CEO wanted an in-flight group photo of his company's three airplanes. Probably to hang over his CEO desk. The company Chief Pilot, Curt M., was charged with accomplishing this task. Curt managed to cajole several of the FBO pilot employees into helping him with his task.

Flying three airplanes plus a photo plane, all in close proximity, and especially airplanes with this much diversity in performance and flight envelopes, is a challenge. Furthermore, it involves a certain elevated amount of risk and danger. None of the pilots involved were former military pilots and/or trained in formation flying. The only real professional at his task among the people involved would be the photographer, as he had engaged our piloting services on previous occasions for various aerial photography missions.

However, I think we all approached it as true professionals, with discussions and plans about procedures, communications, altitudes, airspeeds, headings, forming up, postion changes, breaking up, etc. I was to be flying the photo plane, a Piper Arrow, with freedom to maneuver for best camera angle, with the other three to be holding their positions in close formation for the photo op. So there really isn't much of a story here, because we carried it all off without incident. I was surprised how difficult it is to match airspeed with another nearby airplane. And I was surprised how fast your apparent lateral separation can change with little control input. But we finished up and I safely returned the photographer to home base. I heard later that he'd captured some great shots and that the boss was pretty happy with the results. And got to see some of the proofs myself. I can tell you, formation flying wasn't easy. But it was a great deal of fun.



References for Non-Pilots: